Bernie is the Director of Marketing and Communications at Edmonton Economic Development Corporation.
Edmonton is a story of a northern city that has really turned itself around, in terms of investment promotion, citizen engagement and reputation.
For years, Canada’s fifth-largest city, Edmonton had an image problem. Globally, it did not register, the attempts to attract international business headquarters brought no results. Despite these external image and reputation problems, market research showed Edmontonians loved their city – they simply lacked a way to express it in a powerful and authentic way. Leaders said it prevented investment and talent attraction.
Now, the city is growing. 120,000 students enroll annually in the six publicly-funded universities, with a double-digit growth in international students. Youthful Cities now ranks Edmonton as #1 place in Canada for Youth (under 30) for lifestyle, affordability, and opportunities. Profit Guide magazine ranked Edmonton the second-best place to do business in Canada, and first among the large cities.
What happened? A paradigm shift – the city decided to change the way it thinks and works.
Investment promotion. Edmonton’s strategy was boiled down from a 360 degrees approach to one focusing on the entrepreneurial fabric of the city and diversification of the economy, specifically in Artificial Intelligence (AI) and life sciences. Focus has brought results. Edmonton is home to one of the largest clusters of AI RnD in the country and its AI research is ranked third globally.
Placemaking took hold in the cold and dark city. Winter events were launched to encourage neighbours to “play outside.” Edmonton went from having 6 food trucks to 96. This year a French film crew arrived to shoot a pilot for a food series about “Canada’s best food truck culture.” Wintercity Design is a city led initiative to design the city for winter . The Winter Design Guidelines is a practical set that everyone can use for pop-up events and cafés. During winter.
Branding through citizen engagement. “Make Something Edmonton” became the new bottom-up branding initiative that the city orchestrated from a respectful distance. Workshops, interviews, ambassador books, and more followed. Citizen pride and activities rose. For example, Edmontonians used the brand to argue against by-laws that impede local entrepreneurship and new ventures.
The city’s goal was to tell the story and the brand to Edmontonians. But a brand is a lot more than marketing. It must be the foundation of everything. Rather than buying ads, they have encouraged local businesses and arts organisations to tell the story in their own way — ideally through action. Media around the world have written about the city and its new projects. Edmonton is truly on the brink of reinvention!
Bernie will talk about how to create an identity using a grassroots approach resulting in a brand story that is authentic, lasting and powerful brand on a global stage.